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The Computations of a Traumatized Mind

Rigoli, F. ORCID: 0000-0003-2233-934X (2022). The Computations of a Traumatized Mind. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, doi: 10.1097/hrp.0000000000000327


In cognitive psychology, a recent perspective based on the notion of Latent Cause (LC) has offered new insight on how learning and memory work. Here I explore the implications of this novel perspective to understand Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The proposal is that, because of a propensity to interpret events as manifestations of multiple LCs (a propensity facilitated by experiencing traumas in childhood), PTSD patients would form a LC associated with the trauma which would be responsible for typical symptoms of the illness (specifically, intrusive symptoms and associated fear). Moreover, after the trauma, some patients would develop a second LC, now associated with presence of trauma-related cues combined with absence of danger. Development of the latter LC would interfere with extinction and explain why, for some patients, exposure to trauma-related cues (even when supported by interventions such as exposure protocols) fails to provide much improvement. This proposal has potential clinical implications, raising the possibility that some patients might benefit from exposure to mildly painful aspects of the trauma in conjunction with trauma-related cues.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2022 President and Fellows of Harvard College. This is not the final published version. The published article Rigoli, F. (2022). The Computations of a Traumatized Mind. Harvard Review of Psychiatry is available at
Publisher Keywords: trauma; PTSD; post-traumatic stress disorder; latent cause; structure learning; Bayesian; exposure therapy
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
R Medicine > RC Internal medicine > RC0321 Neuroscience. Biological psychiatry. Neuropsychiatry
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
[img] Text - Accepted Version
This document is not freely accessible until 10 February 2023 due to copyright restrictions.
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial.

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